BA (Hons) Cordwainers Footwear: Product Design and Innovation student Aly Tobin was recently selected as a finalist for this year’s Kering Award and will be exploring sustainability with Stella McCartney, Kering and LCF’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion. With graduation around the corner for Aly, the designer discussed the course and issues close to her for Cordwainers’ Choose Shoes series.
Congratulations on being selected as a finalist for Kering’s 2016 Awards, how does it feel making being nominated and what did you produce?
Thank you! I was, and still am, very surprised to have been selected as a finalist for this prestigious award. Sustainability is such a difficult and broad topic to tackle because there are so many facets to what could be considered “sustainable” and there is no one fool-proof solution to each issue. It has been fascinating to hear the different approaches and how the students selected have unique perspectives depending on their specialism, and so I am honoured that I have been considered for this award with my personal vision for a more sustainable future within footwear. Presently I cannot divulge my entire proposal for this award but what I can say is that I am still in the midst of experimenting and trying to create a more sustainable solution to toxicity levels for footwear by considering the product’s entire life cycle.
Are you excited to be working with CSF, Kering and Stella McCartney over the next few months?
I’m thrilled to be working more closely with CSF, Kering and Stella McCartney. It is such a privilege to have this opportunity and I can’t wait to develop my project further with expert advice through this mentoring stage. Through the different selection processes and the tutorials we have been given so far, my knowledge and confidence has developed dramatically and I’m so excited to see what I will produce by the final stage with their support in the coming months.
What did you study before applying to university?
A lot of people who study footwear at LCF did a foundation course before starting their BA but I came straight from high school. I did the International Baccalaureate (IB) and so I felt that I was prepared to go straight into a BA (Hons) course. I was lucky because I studied IB Art Higher and had a great teacher who helped me with my application and portfolio. He really encouraged students to pursue creative paths and there are a number of people from my high school art class who study at UAL now because of him. I also studied Environmental Science but didn’t know at the time that I would apply this knowledge to a footwear course. I didn’t fully appreciate the impact it would have on my future…
At what point in your life did you realise you wanted to be a footwear designer?
I was 15 when I knew I wanted to be a footwear designer. I didn’t have the urge to be a womenswear or menswear designer and then one day my mum asked me if I ever considered being an accessories or footwear designer. It just kind of clicked for me and I thought – ‘that’s it’. It had literally never occurred to me until that point. Now I’m in Cordwainers and about to graduate!
Why did you want to study at LCF?
Cordwainers is considered the best school in the world for footwear design and so there was nowhere else that I wanted to study. Very few places teach footwear only. There were limited places but I still wanted apply. The list of alumni that have come from Cordwainers, and also LCF, is truly inspiring. We all dream that one day it could be our name next to these amazing designers and our turn to inspire others.
We’re currently showcasing students and alumni from our world renowned Cordwainers school at Golden Lane for #ChooseShoes. What made you choose shoes, and what’s your favourite thing about the course?
It was a tough choice between the accessories course and footwear course. I ended up choosing footwear because making shoes is very technical and I figured that if I could master these technical skills I would have an easier time applying this knowledge to other accessories rather than the other way around.
It’s difficult to pick a favourite thing about the course since I have so many fond memories. I think it’s great that you have to do everything from designing straight through to making a prototype by hand. It makes you consider not only the design but all the practical aspects that go into making a shoe. A lot of people have the misconception that shoe design is about making something pretty because you want to but in reality there are a lot of things to consider. There’s a lot more to footwear than people give credit for. The course is very hands-on and the technicians are incredibly helpful. They are always excited to see what new projects we come up with and I consider the technicians invaluable assets to Cordwainers.
How would you describe your design style?
My design style has changed over the years. I’ve tried different styles and approaches to see what works best for me and I feel that exploring sustainability within the fashion industry has also helped with my style progression. With the involvement of sustainability in my practice I now design classic footwear with a modern twist so that the footwear I create can be relevant today and also in the future. My aim is to encourage thoughtful consumption and to design shoes that can be loved and worn today, tomorrow, and in twenty years!
Sustainability in fashion is the main focus for the Kering Award, what role can footwear play in moving the industry towards a more sustainable future?
I personally think that every industry should consider moving towards a more sustainable future. If we don’t start doing this now then there won’t even be a future. To be honest, studying sustainability can make you get very frustrated at the current state and speed of the fashion industry and consumption. As a designer it is a big challenge to try to use my creativity to create feasible positive changes in a new and exciting way. I love fashion, especially footwear, and I think we should still be able to express our creativity with how we dress, but we must think about this in social and environmental terms. I think it is important to educate consumers about purchasing choices and the implications that these decisions have throughout the supply chain and on the environment. It’s great that Kering are having aphenomenal effort to tackle sustainability and transparency issues – this has to be the future of the fashion industry and we can take a lead that other industries can follow.
I believe technology is rapidly advancing and if we can utilise this in a positive manner then I think footwear can move towards a more biodegradable future. There are a lot of toxic chemicals in the tanning processes and also during the production process. With new development we can create safer alternatives to lessen toxicity levels and to allow for products to biodegrade in the correct environment rather than sit on landfill when the product is at the end of its life. Everything comes from the earth originally and so we have to think about where our products go when we discard them.
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